The Tennessee Volunteers play their first big conference game of the year when they meet defending national champion Florida down at the Swamp on Saturday. Before you say it, let me beat you to the punch: this is not some starry-eyed prediction from somebody who graduated from UT. The Vols will win and for very good reasons.
I'll begin with the obvious. Tennessee's defense has been inconsistent at best so far this year, and Florida's defense has nine new starters that have barely been tested in their first two games. Both teams have a lot of skill on offense, so expect this game to be very high scoring. It's going to take 40 points to win this one.
The Vols get the edge because they will be able to run the ball effectively. Except for the second half of the Southern Mississippi game, Tennessee has had a pass first offense. However, this has masked the fact that the Vols have run the ball very well this year.
Against California, we abandoned the running game because we fell behind early. However, Arian Foster still ran for 89 yards. Admittedly, Cal has a pretty soft run defense, but against a much better Southern Mississippi defense, Foster racked up 125 yards, while the Vols rushed for 193 yards as a team.
Last year, the Vols rushed for a laughable minus-11 yards against the Gators yet still only lost by one point. Even an average rushing day should be enough to get them over the hump this year.
Also, look for the maligned Vols defense to at least make some big plays against the Gators. Yes, quarterback Tim Tebow will put up some big numbers, but our front seven will put enough heat on him to wear him down by the fourth quarter. With rubbery legs, his mobility will be severely limited. Tebow has a lot of skills, but he is inexperienced and has never had to carry the full load in a big conference game.
As I said in my pre-season predictions, the winner of the Eastern Division will have two losses. Therefore, the loser of this game will still be in the thick of the race. However, winning this one would be sweet.
The pick: Tennessee 42 Florida 40
As for the Tennessee Titans, they also have a big game this week as they host defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis. Think about it: the games involving the two highest profile football teams in the state are being played against the defending national college champion and the Super Bowl champion. This is pretty heady stuff.
The Titans have to feel good about their running game after being able to run the ball down the throat of Jacksonville last week. Chris Brown played the game of his professional life in rushing for 175 yards, but his lack of durability will guarantee that LenDale White will still get plenty of carries.
However, the Colts offense can move the ball on anybody. If the Titans can control the clock by running the ball, it will help neutralize the Colts offense. After all, the only way to slow that offense down is to keep it off the field.
The Titans beat the Colts on a last second field goal in Nashville last year, but I don't see it happening this year. The Colts are playing at an extremely high level. The Titans are light years better than they were at this point last year, but it won't be enough.
The pick: Indianapolis 28 Tennessee 17
Other SEC picks: Alabama over Arkansas, Louisville over Kentucky, Vanderbilt over Ole Miss, Auburn over Mississippi State, LSU over Middle Tennessee
Other NFL picks: New England over San Diego, Philadelphia over Washington, Dallas over Miami, Baltimore over New York Jets
Last week: 9-1 (.900), Overall: 19-2 (.905)